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Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Appeal to Minister Visa of the Republic of Uzbekistan Consular Missions of Uzbekistan overseas

Topical issues

  • The problems of the Aral Sea and water resorses of region

The problems of the Aral Sea and water resorses of region

The Problems of the Aral Sea

One of the gravest global environmental disasters of modern times is the tragedy of the Aral Sea facing the countries of Central Asia and their population of some 60 million. Its environmental, climatic, socioeconomic and humanitarian consequences make it a direct threat to sustainable development in the region, and to the health, gene pool and future of the people living there. The Aral Sea region crisis directly affects Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and affects Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan indirectly.

The Aral Sea region had a large variety of flora and fauna; its waters contained 38 species of fish and a range of rare animals; it was the habitat of 1 million saiga antelopes; and its flora included 638 species of higher plants.

Until 1960, the Aral Sea was one of the largest closed bodies of water in the world. It was 426 kilometres long and 284 kilometres wide, with an area of 68,900 square kilometres, a volume of water of 1,083 cubic kilometres, and a maximum depth of 68 m.

The Aral Sea played a vital role in the development of the regional economy, its industries, sources of employment and sustainable social infrastructure. In the past, the Aral Sea was among the richest fisheries in the world: 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes of fish were caught annually in the waters of the Aral Sea region. More than 80 per cent of those living along the Aral Sea shore were employed in catching, processing and transporting fish and fish products. The fertile lands of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya deltas and the rich grazing lands provided employment for more than 100,000 people in livestock rearing, poultry breeding and raising agricultural crops.

The Aral Sea also served to regulate the climate and mitigated the sharp fluctuations in the weather throughout the region, exerting a positive influence on living conditions, agriculture and the environment. In winter, arriving air masses heated up over the waters of the Aral Sea. In summer, they cooled down over the same waters.

The problems of the Aral Sea arose and expanded into a threat in the 1960s, as a result of the feckless regulation of the major cross-border rivers in the region — the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, which had previously provided some 56 cubic kilometres of water to the Aral Sea each year. A jump in the population in the area, urbanization, intensive land development and the construction of major hydrotechnical and irrigation facilities on the water courses of the Aral Sea basin carried out in previous years without regard for environmental consequences led to the dessication of one of the most beautiful bodies of water on the planet. Within a single generation, an entire sea was virtually destroyed. The process of environmental degradation continues, and the Aral Sea region is becoming a lifeless wasteland.

Since the 1990s, all the countries suffering the destructive consequences of the Aralcatastrophe have spoken out regularly at the United Nations and in other international and regional organizations to alert the international community to the problems of the Aral Sea and their close connection with regional and global security. In 28 September 1993, during the forty-eighth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and on 24 October 1995, during the fiftieth session, representatives of the countries of Central Asia appealed to the international community to provide assistance in saving the Aral Sea and the surrounding region, and warned that this problem could not be resolved without the support and assistance of international financial institutions and developed countries, with the United Nations in a coordinating role.

Enormous efforts are being devoted to practical counter-measures at the regional and national level, a key example being the establishment of the International Fund for saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan in January 1993.

The main goals of IFAS are to preserve the biological heritage of the Aral Sea region and to reduce the destructive impact of the ecological crisis on the environment and, most importantly, on the livelihood of the region’s inhabitants.

The efforts of IFAS have borne fruit in the form of the three programmes to assist the countries of the Aral Sea basin (ASBP-1, ASBP-2, ASBP- 3).

As the key founder of the IFAS, Uzbekistan attaches great importance to strengthen its activity. During its chairmanship in the IFAS (1997-1999), Uzbekistan made active efforts to develop the Fund’s legal basis, to establish relations and collaboration with the international organizations and financial institutions, in order to promote sustainable development in the Aral Sea basin. In October 1997 the International technical meeting of the donors was held in Tashkent. The main outcome of the meeting was the start of realization of the international project «Water resources and environment management in the Aral Sea basin».

The International conference on the Aral Sea, which was held by initiative of Uzbekistan in March 2008 in Tashkent, gave significant impulse for considering the Aral problem on international level. It was proved by participation in the conference of representatives from more than 90 international organizations, leading financial institutions of Japan, Germany, China, Arab countries and the well-known research centers. The forum adopted the Tashkent Declaration and the Actions Plan, that determined primary projects for about 1.5 billion dollars to mitigate the harsh consequences of the Aral Sea catastrophe.

On national level, Uzbekistan takes tremendous measures to combat negative impacts of drying of the Aral Sea. Hundreds of programs and projects have been realized since early 1990-s.

A 1.3 billion-dollar-plan to finance projects and measures in the Aral Sea region has been approved for 2013, providing for the creation of small local bodies of water in the Amu Darya delta, construction of water intake facilities with desalination installations, the creation of protective forest plantations and ornithological monitoring of bodies of water in the southern part of the region.

In August 2013 the chairmanship of IFAS passed to the Republic of Uzbekistan. On September 16, 2013 “Programme of measures on eliminating the consequences of the drying up of the Aral Sea and averting the catastrophe of the ecological systems in the Aral Sea region”, initiated by the Uzbek side, was circulated as an official document of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly. The Programme was fully supported by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

“Programme of measures on eliminating the consequences of the drying up of the Aral Sea and averting the catastrophe of the ecological systems in the Aral Sea region” includes the following fundamentally important measures on combating negative impact of the drying of Aral Sea:

I. Creation of conditions for life, reproduction and preservation of the gene pool in the Aral Sea region.

II. Improved measures to manage and save water. Protecting natural bodies of water in the Aral Sea catchment area.

III. Implementation of large-scale measures to plant forests on the dessicated bed of the Aral Sea and prevent desertification in the region.

IV. Preservation of biodiversity, restoration of biological resources and protection of flora and fauna.

V. Further institutional reinforcement and strengthening of cooperation between countries in the region, in the framework of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, and stepped-up efforts to alert the international community to the Aral Sea catastrophe.

However, the continuous deterioration of the environmental, socioeconomic and humanitarian effects of the desiccation of the Aral Sea and the degradation of human habitation in the region make it obvious that, without substantive assistance from the United Nations and the international community, it will be impossible to resolve what is by definition a problem that affects the whole planet.

On October 28-29, 2014 Urganch, Khorazm region hosted International Conference "Development of Cooperation in the Region of the Aral Sea to Mitigate Consequences of the Ecological Catastrophe" to mobilize the efforts of the international community to implement programs and projects aimed at improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea region, as well as the further development of international cooperation to reduce the impact of the environmental disaster.

The outcome of the International Conference was conclusion of agreements on the implementation of national and regional projects totaling 3 bln. USD., 200 mln. of which is grants.

On March 24, 2015 in Tashkent EC IFAS together with regional bodies of the Fund organized round table on topic "Development of cooperation for ecological disaster mitigation in the region of the Aral Sea " And held a special session on the problems of the Aral Sea in the framework of the 7th World Water Forum (12 -17 April 2015, Daegu and Gangbuk, Republic of Korea).

During its chairmanship in the IFAS Uzbekistan jointly with other states-founders of the Fund and in close cooperation with international donor organizations intends to take necessary steps for the implementation of the Programme of measures.

The Problems of equitable and reasonable utilization of transboundary waters problems in Central Asia

Ensuring the equitable and reasonable use of transboundary water resources is an acute problem in the conditions of worsening ecological situation and shortage of potable water in Central Asia.

It is an open secret that the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers — the two major transboundary rivers of Central Asia have historically been a common good and the source of life for the nations of the region. The Aral Sea basin is supplied with water fr om the flow of these rivers.

In this regard, Uzbekistan cannot but be concerned with the plans of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to construct the new large hydropower stations with gigantic on a global scale dams, i.e. the Rogun Hydropower Station with a 350-meter high dam in the upstream of the Amudarya River and the Kamabarata-1 Hydropower Station with a 275-meter high dam in the upstream of the Syrdarya River.

The implementation of such plans, according to many competent specialists, shall lead to disruption of the natural flow of the rivers which is fraught with most dangerous ecological and social-economic consequences. The already fragile water and ecologic balance in Central Asia shall radically be disrupted. Moreover, the construction of these facilities is planned in the areas wh ere there is a tectonic fracture with a seismicity of not less than 9–10 points Richter scale which brings about a high risk of manmade catastrophes.

Taking this into consideration, Uzbekistan firmly adhere to the principle position of unacceptability of constructing hydropower facilities at the international watercourses without a preliminary endorsement by all interested countries. It is necessary in line with international legal practice to mandatorily conduct the fair international expert examination of the projects on Rogun and Kambarata-1 under auspices of the United Nations to assess a possible impact of new hydropower facilities on the natural water regime, environment, flora and fauna.

Uzbekistan’s position is based on the norms of international law, and in particular, the provisions of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of 1992 and the UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses of 1997.

Position of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the Issue of Water Management in Central Asia

Currently, the rational use of natural resources, especially water and energy, is one of the most serious problems. Various and ambiguous approaches in this sphere impede development, lead to conflicts and sometimes to ecological catastrophes.

Thoughtless regulation of major transboundary rivers, carried out during the second half of the last century, has put our region on the brink of ecological disaster. Evidence of this is the tragedy of the Aral Sea, which almost over the life of only one generation has turned from a beautiful and unique sea into a drying and vanishing water reservoir, and the Aral Sea region from flourishing oasis - into a desert.

The drying up of the Aral Sea is directly related to the rational use of water resources in the region of two major rivers - the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Any change in the volume and the flow regime of the rivers threatens with an irrevocable disruption of the fragile ecological balance in Central Asia.

That is why we cannot agree with some of the approaches to the use of water resources in Central Asia. Any attempt to implement projects on construction of large hydro-structures at the upper reaches of these rivers bearing serious security risks in terms of environmental, social and technological hazards is counterproductive and dangerous.

Ignoring these serious challenges jeopardizes the development prospects and the overall survival of tens of millions of people in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Water and energy issues in Central Asia, including construction of new hydro-structures on rivers should be considered in accordance with universally recognized norms of international law, which are guaranteeing a rational and fair distribution of water resources, and ensuring the interests of all states in the region.

In particular, the UN Convention "On the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes" of March 17, 1992 and UN Convention "On the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses" of May 21, 1997 clearly state that all decisions on the use of transboundary rivers, including the construction of hydropower facilities, must not in any way harm the environment and infringe the interests of neighboring states.

Today, Uzbekistan, like other Central Asian countries, which located in the downstream of transboundary rivers experiences a serious shortage of water resources. That is why, guided by these international legal principles and norms of all hydropower projects envisaged to be constructed in the upper reaches of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya must be consistent with the downstream countries after a credible, independent and impartial assessment of the feasibility of their implementation.

In accordance with international standards, Uzbekistan stands for a clear allocation of priorities in the use of water. First, limited water resources of the region should be used for drinking and sanitary needs, secondly, to ensure food security and environmental needs, and then for industry and energy.

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